Friday, February 04, 2005

Who then, does Andrew Cohen answer to?

Anonymous writes in response to Craig Hamilton's post:

You ask, "if Andrew Cohen really were the menace to society this blog describes, why would so many of today’s wisest and most respected spiritual and cultural authorities have expressed such strong support for his work?"

Does this blog describe Andrew Cohen as a “menace to society”? I certainly did not get that impression from Susan Bridle’s and Hal’s posts or from the few others I read here, but I have not studied the entire blog.

That aside, you ask why so many respected authorities have expressed such strong support of Andrew Cohen’s work, and you provide a link readers can follow to a "press room" at where a number of people whose names are undoubtedly familiar to many of us are listed, along with their praises of Andrew Cohen and his work.

Here are their names: Brian Swimme, Don E. Beck, John Roemischer, Andrei Codrescu, Ken Wilber, John White, Swami Chidananda, Wayne Teasdale, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, and Yvan Amar.

Ken Wilber, John White, and Barbara Marx Hubbard are on record as having at one time or another expressed strong support for the American self-styled Avatar/World-Teacher Adi Da and his "work." In a public announcement made in the late 1990’s, Ken Wilber said that he had come to see Adi Da as “problematic” and “pathological.”

Have any of the authorities listed on the pressroom page of ever lived as students over a period of time in Andrew Cohen's community? If not, they may be authorities on any number of things, but they are not authorities on what life as a student in Andrew Cohen's community is like.

You ask, "if the community around Cohen even remotely resembled the sort of life-destroying police-state this blog depicts, why would most of those writing on this blog have stayed with Cohen of their own free will for ten or more years? And why would so many others report it to be the most enriching, life-affirming, and genuinely evolutionary environment they have ever experienced?"

I missed the posts at this blog that depict Andrew Cohen's community as a life-destroying-police-state (and as I noted, I have not studied this blog), but if we put questions about Andrew Cohen aside, I think we can say that there is a great deal of evidence to the effect that many people have been known to stay in dysfunctional systems of their own free will, often for many years before they "wake up" and realize that the system they're in is indeed dysfunctional, while other people living within the same dysfunctional systems seem to thrive and might not see the system as dysfunctional. We might keep in mind that systems are not static, and that someone may stay for years in a system that becomes cumulatively dysfunctional or otherwise problematic over time.

You say that it is a cheap shot for anyone to suggest that Andrew Cohen sees himself as an infallible authority figure who answers to no one. As evidence you mention that he has gone out of his way to meet with other teachers and that he regularly speaks about his continuing evolution as a teacher. This begs the question if Andrew Cohen, in relationship not to other teachers but to his students, functions in the mode of an infallible authority figure (who is believed to be infallible because he is believed to be enlightened) and tells us nothing about how communication and feedback is processed within Andrew Cohen's community.

If it is a cheap shot for anyone to suggest that Andrew Cohen is an infallible authority figure who answers to no one, are we to assume that there are ways that Andrew Cohen’s students can bring grievances and critical feedback to him without fear of ostracism, exile, public humiliation, or other repercussions? Spiritual teachers do exist who disallow and disavow all critical feedback from students and who rationalize this by defining all of their students as unenlightened and "egoic" and therefore incapable of discerning when the teacher’s behavior is truly skillful, as in “skillful means,” and when the teacher may be acting out of unconsciousness. In communities presided over by such teachers, the benefit of the doubt always goes to the teacher and never to the students, and therefore there can be no such thing as legitimate grievances and critical feedback from students. Students who loyal to the teacher in such communities automatically see students who sometimes look critically at and question the teacher and/or who leave and then look critically at and question the teacher, as being caught up in unenlightened "egoic" reactivity. I would say that it is not a cheap shot to characterize such teachers as "self-proclaimed infallible authority" figures, but you are clearly indicating that Andrew Cohen does not fall into that mold or pattern (and that is good news).

Who then, other than other teachers, and beyond making general admissions that he continues to evolve as a teacher, does Andrew Cohen answer to?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How Not To Defend Your Guru

1. Don’t bring up Freud. Here's the first reason not to use Freud when defending a spiritual teacher:

Anthony Storr is a Fellow at the Royal College of Physicians, an Emeritus Fellow at Green College at Oxford, and a former Clinical Lecturer in Psychiatry at Oxford University.

Storr writes, “Freud’s dogmatism and intolerance of disagreement led to the departure of many colleagues, including Adler, Stekel, Jung, and eventually Rank and Ferenczi, from the psychoanalytic movement. When his associates remained faithful disciples, Freud gave them his approval; but when they disagreed, he abused them, or accused them of being mentally ill. Adler was described by Freud as a paranoiac; Stekel as unbearable and as a louse; Jung as brutal and sanctimonious. Psychoanalysis became more and more like a religious cult, and Freud himself applied the term heretic to defectors.”

2. Here's the second reason not to use Freud when defending your spiritual teacher:

Craig Hamilton, in his response to Susan Bridle's post, writes: "As Sigmund Freud saw clearly, and as Anna Freud explained in its details, the ego, or self-image, protects itself with an army of defense mechanisms which, in effect, endlessly reshuffle the details of reality in order to keep one’s picture of oneself intact."

In addition to the first reason I gave for not citing Freud when defending your spiritual teacher, the second reason is that what Craig says here applies, in theory, to Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, Craig Hamilton, Susan Bridle, Andrew Cohen, me, and about six billion other people. We might be especially suspicious of individuals who have power over others and who represent themselves as being enlightened. Perhaps Craig can tell us if he believes and especially if Andrew Cohen believes that Andrew Cohen has no "defense mechanisms." If Andrew Cohen believes that about himself, and/or if his students believe that about him, then we will know that we are indeed dealing with a cult phenomenon (in the pejorative sense of the word "cult"). No one is without defense mechanisms at all times, anymore than anyone is infallible.

3. Don't accuse critics of your spiritual teacher of comprising a "cult," such as the "anti-Cohen cult," because it makes it appear that you are desparate to neutralize the term. If the term "cult," in its pejorative sense as it is typically used in psychology and sociology, does not apply to your spiritual teacher's community, then as long as critics don't slander your teacher or spread challengeable lies about the community, you have nothing to worry about if critics accuse your community of being a cult and your teacher of being a cult leader. If you think you do have reason to worry about that, then it makes sense to bring that word into the discussion.

4. Don't accuse critics (explicitly or by innuendo) of distorting reality unless you can show that they are distorting reality.

Craig wrote, again in his response to Susan: "The 'wisdom of the ego' as Harvard psychologist George Vaillant refers to it in his book by the same name, lies in its ingenious ability to distort reality to protect us from uncomfortable, even devastating truths."

The problem here is that no one who fits into the category "human being" is incapable of distorting reality to protect themselves from uncomfortable, and even devastating truths, and that includes self-styled enlightened spiritual teachers. This goes back to the question of fallibilty. If a spiritual teacher implicity represents himself and/or if his students represent him (or her) as being infallible, that is a bright red flag that signals potentially serious problems. No one is infallible, not the Buddha, not Jesus, not Jerry Falwell, not the Pope, and not Andrew Cohen.

It's unlikely that all critics distort reality at all times. If only 1% of the criticisms directed at your teacher have merit, this should be vulnerably acknowledged. (An example of not vulnerably acknowledging that your teacher is indeed a fallible human being who is not perfectly skillful in his or her means at all times, would be to say, "We admit that the teacher uses harsh methods at some times and that this may cause some of his students distress, but the ego's stubborn resistance demands such means..." That's a rationale, not an admission. And let's be honest; if you honestly believe that your teacher's means are consistently skillful at all times and that he or she has never made a "mistake," then say so. It's okay... there are Catholics who believe the Pope is infallible, so you won't be alone in the world, and the rest of us will know where you stand.)

5. Don’t bring up Marpa and Milarepa, or how tough some Japanese Zen masters are reputed to have been with their students. At the time of this writing it is the early 21st century, and I imagine that most of us are not living in feudal or militaristic cultures that were at a relatively low level of "vMeme" development according to the Spiral Dynamics model which has been written about in What Is Enlightenment? magazine.

As for references to Marpa, see this post (which is elsewhere on this blog):

6. Don't quote Famous People who have penned endorsements for your teacher to defend your teacher against criticisms from former students, because everyone knows that the Famous People were most likely only exposed to the teacher's and the community's best side and that anything the teacher didn't want the Famous People to see was kept from their view. It's also well known that spiritual communities under suspicion of being toxic cults often respond by saying, "Our doors are wide open, visit any time!," and then make absolutely certain that visitors will see a squeaky clean community filled with shiny, happy people.


The upshot of all this is that it's difficult to defend one's spiritual teacher against critical feedback from former students when the critical feedback is as articulate and free of bitterness as is the critical feedback of Andre van der Braak, Hal Blacker, and Susan Bridle. It's possible that they and other former students are all thoroughly deluded individuals who simply could not stand the spiritual fire generated by Andrew Cohen. And it's also possible that monkees fly out of Madonna's butt, as Garth of Wayne's World once said.

- posted by "anonymous 1."

Saturday, 05 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Susan Bridle was Managing Editor of WIE when the Fall/Winter 1998 issue was published, and Craig Hamilton was an Associate Editor.

This issue of WIE is divided into two sets of interviews, which are listed on the contents page under the headings "Advaita" and "Buddhism." On the Buddhist side, Andrew Cohen interviews author and meditation teacher Stephen Batchelor (who today lends a hearty endorsement to Andre van der Braak's book, Enlightenment Blues), Susan Bridle interviews transpersonal psychologist Frances Vaughan, Associate Editor Simeon Alev interviews Buddhist scholar Peter Masefield, and Associate Editor Amy Edelstein interviews Tricycle Buddhist Review editor Helen Tworkov as well as the Dalai Lama.

Near the end of her interview with the Dala Lama, Edelstein asks if he "can explain more about the value -- of the necessity -- of having a spiritual teacher?"

Each of the other interviews on the Buddhist side ends with a question that was obviously discussed in an editorial meeting before the interviews took place.

Edelstein asks Tworkov: "I have one last question for you: Imagine you leave your apartment in Chelsea and you walk downtown to the Tricycle offices. As you get to Vandam, you look down the street and to your surprise you see a throng of ten or twenty thousand monks and nuns crowding the entire block. You make your way through the mass of monks and nuns to your building. When you get to the entrance, you look up and see someone standing before the door—it is none other than the Buddha himself. As you look at him, you have absolutely no doubt that it is, indeed, the Buddha. If this were to happen, and if he looked at you and said, 'Okay, Helen, your time has come. Leave everything and come join my order of monks and nuns,'"—would you do it?"

Alev asks Masefield: "If you yourself were to encounter a Buddha today, and if in the midst of that encounter you were doubtless as to his true identity and the absolute nature of his demand, would you follow him?"

Bridle asks Vaughan: "I just have one more question. Imagine for a moment that you come home from work one day and suddenly you notice in the distance a figure of unmistakable wisdom and dignity slowly approaching you, accompanied by a group of men and women whom you recognize to be his disciples. Suddenly you realize beyond any doubt that this is the Buddha! And then you are face to face with him, and he says, 'Frances, drop everything and follow me.' What would you do?"

And Cohen asks Batchelor: "In your book, you describe the situation of being in your kitchen and then going out for some milk for your tea and coming back to drink it. Even though something like this obviously could never happen, if, when you went out for your milk one morning—and you hadn't even quite woken up yet because you still hadn't had your tea—you suddenly saw the Buddha before you with a throng of ten thousand monks, and he came up to you and said, 'Stephen, your time has come. Follow me.'—would you do it?"

This is a rather transparent self-marketing ploy and effort at "hidden persuasion" on the part of Cohen and his organization, is it not? Given the context in which the question appears, it's rather obvious that the intended subtle or "hidden" persuasive message to WIE readers is: "If you have absolutely no doubt about the absolute nature of Andrew Cohen's demand, and you can see by reading this magazine that he is an enlightened Buddha before you here and now, how will you respond? Will you follow him?"

A child at a certain level of development will cover his face with his hands and think that because he can't see you, you must not be able to see him. That's about how subtle I find the attempt to conceal a persuasive message in the aforementioned interviews.

Sunday, 06 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Response to: Who then, does Andrew Cohen answer to?

In Andrew's own words a paragraph excerpted from "Revelation and Awakening" by spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen. Please read the whole article at his website.

Over the next three weeks, there was an explosion inside me. Tremendous energy, experienced as overwhelming bliss, was so intense at times that I thought my body wouldn't be able to withstand it. I felt like I was going to explode into a thousand pieces. A powerful presence was slowly but surely consuming my entire being and I was scared at times. Day by day I was literally being overtaken by this conscious energy. Then, early one morning in a hotel room in Delhi, I sat up on my bed and heard the words come out of my mouth: "I surrender my life to You; do with me what You will."

May this be of help to you.


Thursday, 10 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Freebird, I read the article. It does not answer my question, unless you intend to imply that Cohen answers to God. Would that make him like the Blues Brothers, "on a mission from God"? Or like Adolf Hitler, who when hospitalized after being blinded by mustard gas during WWI, had a powerful vision of himself as the savior of Germany? He was so transported by ecstasy during his oratories that he sometimes had to drink a gallow of water and soak in a tub full of cold water after to replenish the water he'd lost through sweat. Countless Germans reported feeling transported into powerful altered states when listening to him speak and just by being in his presence. Please see the image at this url:

How easily we are moved by those with charisma, magnetism, passion, and absolute conviction.

I'm unimpressed by Cohen's description of his revelation and awakening because he describes nothing I and many others haven't experienced. Many Zen teachers, insight meditation teachers, and other Buddhist teachers report that their students have exactly the kinds of revelations and awakenings Cohen describes, and are typically told to just let them go. Cohen would not be authorized to teach by any Zen teacher or other Buddhist teachers I'm aware of.

Are you impressed with Cohen's revelation and awakening story? Some men are impressed with Pamela Anderson's big breasts and big hair. Some folks are impressed with Donald Trump. Personally, I think Jennifer Garner is the pinnacle of evolution, but Cohen doesn't impress me at all.

Friday, 11 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Response to: Who then, does Andrew Cohen answer to?

I, Freebird never implied that Andrew Cohen answers to God. I only quoted his own words hoping the readers would use spiritual discernment in knowing.

I am not impressed with Andrew Cohen and his teachings.

God is the center of my being and in Him and through Him, I am free today. God is my power and my strength and does not fail me, nor will He fail you.

Whenever we follow after Popes, gurus, etc., we are leaving the number One to follow creatures, therefore, idols. Our power from God is turned over to them and our full cup is emptied. We turn over the "I am, that I am" to another. The power these self appointed God men seem to possess is the power of God that we have given over to them. Look at the first commandment: You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind, Soul and strength and have no other Gods before me. A true teacher will always guide you to God within yourself.

May you now have a clearer understanding as to my previous post.


Friday, 11 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Freebird wrote: "May you now have a clearer understanding as to my previous post."

Thank you for clearly explaining where you were coming from.

I too hope readers will use spiritual discernment (as well as common sense discernment) in knowing.

anonymous ;-)

Friday, 11 February, 2005  

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